Journal of Educational Controversy


Friday, November 20, 2009

American Schools: The Art of Creating a Democratic Learning Community

Many of our readers will remember Sam Chaltain’s article, “Ways of Seeing (and of Being Seen): Visibility in Schools,” that we published in our winter 2008 issue of the journal on the theme, “Schooling as if Democracy Matters.” Sam is the National Director for the Forum for Education & Democracy. In his article, he describes the current state of invisibility so many students experience in our schools and lays the groundwork for rethinking the role of school leadership. “The central challenge in any organizational culture," writes Chaltain, "is to help people become more aware of the inner place from which they operate." Chaltain has now developed his ideas further in a new book, American Schools: The Art of Creating a Democratic Learning Community, published by Rowman & Littlefield Education and featuring a foreword from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. If you are interested in reviewing this book for a future issue of our journal, please contact We are thinking about experimenting with a new video review format. If you have the expertise and would like to try this new format, let us know.

Below are some of the advance reviews of the book:

"Our country's ongoing commitment to democratic principles can only be actualized if democracy lives in our public schools. This book reveals how schools can help students and teachers see and hear one another, create a strong community, and develop the sensibilities and skills for democratic life. It provides a framework for democratic leadership that is accessible, actionable, and grounded in good pedagogy."—Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education, Stanford University

"Sam Chaltain expects schools to do more than merely give their students knowledge of the world. By helping them to make themselves known to the world, he believes that they will be able to meet the democratic goal of taking responsibility for it. This book offers ideas and practical examples."—Ted Sizer, founder, Coalition of Essential Schools and former Dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education

"A powerful concept provides the organizing theme of this refreshing book: our nation's school leaders must strike the right balance between freedom and structure in order to create healthy, high-functioning learning environments. But there is a pervasive, more subtle one that slips along with the turning of the pages: the curriculum provides knowledge and skills relevant to daily functioning, but the persona of the teacher powerfully shapes the becoming of each unique being."—John Goodlad, president, Institute for Educational Inquiry

"Sam Chaltain has written a provocative, daring book, one that tangles with how best to create community and tolerance within the walls of a school. Chaltain is on to something - that an understanding of freedom is essential to creating active, engaged citizens, and that supporting individual freedoms need not negate an orderly, structured environment. I urge you to read American Schools."—Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here

"I want to thank Sam Chaltain for writing this book. I wish I had the guidance of his ideas when my colleagues and I created our own network of public schools. Sam explains through personal stories and case studies how the visible can become visible, how the disengaged can become engaged, and how structure and freedom can complete a well-rounded education. Sam shows education leaders how student achievements can be enhanced, how teachers can be supported to use their talents and interests to learn from one another, and how the larger community of parents and citizens can be mobilized to become part of the ongoing creation of powerful schools. What separates this book from others on school leadership is its clear set of doable practice focused relentlessly on the public purpose of schools. Sam is a much talented writer; lyrical in his descriptions, humorous in his candor, and greatly respectful of educators who try each day to be true to their larger calling."—Carl Glickman, professor at the University of Georgia

No comments: